JOHANNESBURG – George Lebese shook his head and produced a wry smile before he was even asked the first question as he knew the direction the interview would take.
The 29-year-old’s debut season at Mamelodi Sundowns was underwhelming since his much-publicised move from Kaizer Chiefs to his boyhood club.
Lebese argued that he didn’t want to be average anymore, which is why he chose to make the switch from Naturena to Chloorkop. He didn’t have an average season like Amakhosi, who went empty-handed for a third season in a row. He finished with the Absa Premiership title and tasted football in the group stage of the Caf Champions League for the first time.
But his performance was average. Lebese was just a squad player in those achievements. He played only one full match in the 10 appearances he made in the league.
Behind the scenes, Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane was pushing him which resulted in Lebese shedding six kilograms.
“Nothing went wrong with me last season. I just needed time to understand what the coach required from me. It was a learning season,” he said. “There are no excuses in the upcoming season. I know what the coach wants, so I am just waiting for my chance. I have regular conversations with him (Mosimane) because I need feedback to know what I need to improve. Obviously I would like to play.
“Working with someone who is as demanding as him improved me as a player. He also once said that if I moved into another team, I’d just fit in nicely because of the amount of work we’re putting in together. Even though I am not playing, there’s a lot of work that we’re doing behind the scenes. He is happy with my progress. I am just waiting for my opportunity. I have never worked this hard in my career.”
The lad from Mamelodi has a perfect opportunity to stake his claim in the Sundowns starting XI following the departure of Khama Billiat and Percy Tau, who were instrumental in the club’s success last season.
He could get his chance tomorrow at Lucas Moripe Stadium in the Brazilians’ clash with AS Togo-Port (9pm kick-off).
Sundowns have collected a paltry three points from their first three matches in the group stage of the Champions League, but they're just three points behind Wydad Casablanca who sit at the top of Group C.
“The club is expected to reach the final or at least the semi-finals of the Champions League,” Lebese said. “We can’t settle for just reaching the group stage with the quality we have. It’s disappointing to find ourselves in this situation. Sundowns is required to win the Champions League.
“We haven’t been doing well so (but) we have to get ourselves out of this situation. We have ourselves to blame for being here. We could have won those matches so now we need to rectify that.”
Lebese is positive about not only Sundowns’ turnaround but also about his future at the club, even though both look bleak. Being in an environment where he isn’t the main man has humbled him and made him to work even harder.
“I can’t sulk. It won’t help me with anything. I need to work hard. But I am happy here,” Lebese said.@NJABULON